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Business Owners Push Bushwick Mall Developer to Keep National Chains Out

By Meredith Hoffman | December 17, 2012 11:47am

BUSHWICK — Neighborhood entrepreneurs and residents are pushing the developer of Bushwick's planned shopping mall to rent only to local companies and keep large national chains out.

The shopping center — which the Observer recently reported would open in the 80,000-square-foot warehouse across from the Morgan L train station at 82 Bogart St. — should favor "smaller, independent, locally based businesses," bookstore owner Matthew Winn wrote on his Facebook page.

Winn has written to the realtor handling the deal, and is urging others to do the same to "respectfully suggest he avoid these homogenous national chains."

"I think there is a sort of unanimous feeling of revulsion at the idea of an Urban Outfitters moving in," said Winn, owner of Molasses Books, in reference to the Observer article's mention of Urban Outfitters and the Guitar Center as possible tenants.

Winn said Andrew Clemens, a realtor with Massey Knakal who is handling all marketing for the mall's developer, North Development Corp., responded to his letter and claimed that "those two chains are nothing but talk."

One resident, Sean Holland, noted on Molasses' Facebook page that he also emailed Clemens and got a similar response.

Clemens did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Winn insisted that putting franchises in the building would be a poor business move.

"Any...chain would be tone deaf and off the mark for the communities they are trying to cater to," Winn said.

Steve Driebe, owner of the print shop Silky's Silkscreening in the Loom arts collective, agreed that he would "rather have local businesses than big corporate businesses any day."

Driebe said the Bogart Street mall would be very similar to the Loom if it houses only independent stores.

"It would be stiff competition," he said, "but it'd be good for Bushwick."

Some small business owners were not optimistic that the developer would follow through on the request to exclude national franchises.

"As a small business owner I'm probably not on his agenda. What does he care what I think?" said Corinne Persan, who owns the Loom's handmade clothing boutique Better Than Jam.

Persan also said she doubted that most small businesses could afford the mall's reported asking rent, $35 to $45 per square foot.

"It's a matter of money," she said.

Meanwhile, Nyssa Frank, who runs the Living Gallery in the Loom, took a more diplomatic approach.

"It's ironic...one of my friends said she didn't want Urban Outfitters here, but she was wearing Urban Outfitters pants," Frank said. "I think people want to keep it local not because they're anti big business, but because that's what's charming about Bushwick."

She said expected the mall to "create a tidal wave of rising rent for all local stores." But she noted that it also might bring jobs to her friends and other unexpected benefits. Frank said her gallery's weekly philosophy group had discussed the mall, and that she hoped to have future meetings to address the plan.

"The most important thing for us right now is communication," she said.

Representatives for Urban Outfitters did not immediately respond to emails. A spokeswoman for the Guitar Center declined to comment on whether the company planned to rent space in the mall.